For years, we have toyed with this notion that each pie has their own story to tell. How was each pie created? What does the combination of ingredients bring forth, both physically and emotionally? What sort of storytellers are we when we create each different variety of pie? How does our artistry come through in each finished pie? And maybe even more so…does it matter? You can buy a pie at a lot of different venues and a lot of people count pie-baking in their skill set. So does a story even matter? For us, yes.
So what I’m about to share with you is how we think of Chocolate Bourbon Pecan at Peggy Jean’s Pies. This is entirely a work of fiction and not based on anyone in particular, only maybe how one of our very favorite recipes came to be years ago. Because the story matters to us, we created one to reflect the artistry in the ingredients and the momentum behind the finished product…
She lived a small life in a small house in a small town at the edge of what she guessed was a very big world. She wasn’t young and she had been married a long time. He was her second husband. The first had died many years ago, leaving her with eight children, but with some money and some good memories. This husband had come along as the roof needed repair, as the last of her children moved out and married, and as she started to wonder what she would do with her time. He was a mostly good person, and so when he asked her to marry him, she surprised even herself and told him she would. Then she went to bed and wondered how she had made her decision so quickly.
He was amicable, but he liked to drink. Drink more than she ever had…she had a nip to ease a tooth pain, a small sip of champagne to celebrate New Year’s Eve once long ago. She didn’t understand it, but she knew that he loved it and she knew he loved it more than even her. Every afternoon he would pour the dark amber liquid into the glass and down it quickly and follow it with another. Then he would head to town for more with his friends and he would leave her sitting on the front porch with too much on her mind and no one to talk to about those things. He might be back in an hour or five or a day or five. She didn’t ask. She had learned she shouldn’t.
So mostly she would sit on the front porch as the sun slipped to the other side of the world. She would think about her children, her grandchildren, her first husband, her dogs, her parents, all the moments that brought her to the moment she was in. And she would wonder just how all those moments felt so big at the time, but in the end, led to such a very small life.
One night she considered the flask of brown liquid that he kept under the mattress and then considered it some more. Bourbon, he said. Bourbon was expensive and hard to come by in their small world. She turned the flask around in her aging hands and unscrewed the cap. She took a quick swallow and felt it burn all the way to her stomach where it suddenly turned to a miraculous warm. She went to bed understanding more than she had known when she woke up.
And so it became her routine, after he left each night, she would have a drink or two or three. She liked the warmed haze that held close around her and the way her thoughts sounded different in her head. She wanted a cigarette and she wanted to make different decisions in 1958 and she wanted to hear music and she wanted to find out what else was in the world beyond her small home in an even smaller town.
Then one day he noticed. He asked her why his bourbon was missing and he threw the flask against the wall and squeezed her arms tight when he pushed her again the wall. “A pie,” she said. The words came out thoughtlessly. “A pie with chocolate, pecans, and bourbon. For your birthday. I’ve been experimenting.” As the words escaped her she wondered where she learned to lie. But his face softened a bit and he smiled. He liked a surprise. And he liked a pie.
“You do that then,” he said. “My birthday is next week…I’ll look forward to it. And I’ll get you a little bottle of bourbon so you can bake.” And he left the room, ending it as quickly as he started it.
She lay awake that night, unable to find sleep. Her mind raced. A pie with chocolate and pecans and bourbon? How would she do that? She didn’t bake often and she couldn’t ask for any help, as someone would ask why she needed a help. “I’m a liar with a love for bourbon” wasn’t a good answer in her small town.
The next morning, when he left for the fields, she began work. She carefully made crust from her mother’s recipe that was tattered and faded. It made her miss her mama. It made her sad that at her age, she couldn’t admit her love for her nightly drink or be married to a man that understood it. She measured and mixed and baked. She made a gooey mess and fed it to the dog. She made a burned mess and fed it to the dog. He ate both, but he looked at her with questions in her eyes.
Two days and ten pounds of flour later, she recognized a delicious smell in the air. Something felt right and smelled right and when it came out of the oven, it cut just right. She considered it, with the dog prancing in the background as he hoped for another disaster. But this, this cut just right and she took a small bite and it was perfect. It was the most perfect thing she had ever baked. It was sweet and nutty and with a hint of her bourbon. And her mama’s crust balanced it out. And for the first time, something felt right. She sighed relief and was thankful for baking herself out of a very big problem. And she had leftover bourbon in the bottle he had brought home.
At his birthday dinner, she presented the pie with flourish. He took a bite and prepared to criticize, because that was his best skill. But he couldn’t because it was, well, it was heavenly. Even he said so, and she wasn’t aware he even knew the word. “Make it every week.” He said, as an edict. “How much bourbon is in this?” he asked, mouth full. “A whole cup” she said, earnestly and with shocked conviction. “I’ll make sure you have a supply,” he said, mouth still full.
That night after he had gone to town , she sat on the porch with a tumbler of bourbon. She smiled to herself. The pie only needed a fourth of a cup of the bourbon, but she needed a fourth of a cup as well. And now he was none the wiser. She sipped and thought, but for the first time, she didn’t think of the decisions she should have made. She was fairly certain she had finally made one.